'I Can Fix About Anything'
Joe Campeti tells the story of Wheeling's longest-running shoe repair shop, and his search for an apprentice.
“I can fix about anything.”

That’s Joe Campeti talking — the third generation of artisans repairing shoes since 1904 — at Campeti’s General Shoe Hospital.

Anything. Ladies’ high heels. Men’s western boots with the toe chewed off by “Rover.” Clown shoes. Power Ranger boots.

Yep. Clown shoes.

“That big, that wide,” he said, stretching his hands to indicate the shoe was at least a couple feet long by a foot wide. “Your arms are only so long,” making the repair a not-so-easy task. Probably the hardest task ever, he recalled.

The clown — in town with the circus — needed a shoe resoled.

And, the repair to the Power Ranger boots? Well, that made Dad a hero to Joe’s young son more than 20 years ago.

Joe’s been shining shoes since he was 10, and started working full-time with his dad, Adolph Campeti, in the 1970s as a high school student.

It was Adolph’s dad, Anthony Campeti, who emigrated from Lucci, a little town in the Calabria region of Italy. He came to town in 1904 and opened up shop on 11th Street. The shoe hospital stayed put until 1968, when Adolph moved the business to 20 Bridge St., more commonly known as “Stone and Thomas Alley.”

Joe took over the business when his dad died in 1992, and then in 2005 moved to his present location at 1219 Market St.

He’s busier than ever, he said. Back in the day, there were 26 shoe repair shops in the valley, on both sides of the river.

“I could throw a rock and hit three other repair shops,” he said.

And now, he’s the only game in town.

But at the age of 61, Joe’s looking for someone to take over in the next few years.

“I’d love to get a responsible young person in here. It takes years to train,” he said. And not only does the person have to learn to fix shoes, but he or she needs to learn how to fix the machinery that fixes the shoes.

“There’s a lot of tricks you need to know.”

It’s hard work, he noted, but “gratifying.” And the “money’s decent.”

The trade is still a much-needed one. Good leather shoes are expensive these days, and it’s cheaper to fix them than to get a new pair.

“You wouldn’t junk your car if you had a flat tire — you know what I mean?”

What’s it take to succeed in this business?

Joe ticked off a list of attributes:

“Be nice to people … work hard … treat people how you want to be treated … have to be good with your hands …

“Anyone can do it if you’re good with your hands and good with people.”

And what would Wheeling do if Campeti’s goes away?

“They’d probably just throw them away!” Joe said about the worn-out, chewed-up or broken-down shoes.

But he reassures us, “I’ll be here for a while.”

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